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22 Things You Didn't Know Your Google Chromecast Could Do

While Google's ultraportable media-streaming device is pretty much plug-and-play, a few tips and tricks can make casting more magical.

By Chandra Steele

My Experience

My title is Senior Features Writer, which is a license to write about absolutely anything if I can connect it to technology (I can). I’ve been at PCMag since 2011 and have covered the surveillance state, vaccination cards, ghost guns, voting, ISIS, art, fashion, film, design, gender bias, and more. You might have seen me on TV talking about these topics or heard me on your commute home on the radio or a podcast. Or maybe you’ve just seen my Bernie meme

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Google helps simplify your online life, from email and online storage to news and digital maps. But it can also take over your TV with the Chromecast.

Google currently sells two versions of its media-streaming device—the Chromecast Ultra and Chromecast With Google TV. The latter gave Google's dongle a much-needed makeover, adding a remote and an on-screen menu. Many people are probably still casting via legacy devices, though; the Chromecast has been around since 2013. Its functionality is also built into many of today's top smart TVs.

However you "cast" your content, part of the Chromecast's appeal lies in its portability and ease of use; just plug it in, connect to Wi-Fi, and you'll be streaming Netflix, Spotify, HBO Max, Hulu, and more from your mobile device or PC to the TV in no time—not to mention apps for music, working out, and catching up on sports.

Although the ultraportable devices are pretty much plug-and-play, a few tips and tricks can make casting more magical. Check them out below.

1. Get Personal

Google TV screen with profile photos and names

You share a lot with the people you love, but maybe not your taste in movies and shows. Everyone in your household can keep their watchlists—and more important, their recommendations—separate with Google TV on your Chromecast. Go to the Google TV home screen and select your profile. Select Add Account. Sign in to the Google account you want to add, answer the profile setup questions, then select the streaming services you want to associate with the profile.

2. Take Your Eyes Off Your Watchlist

woman holding white Chromecast remote over a coffee table with decorative items on it

Instead of scrolling through menus to get to your watchlist, just press the Google Assistant button on the side of the remote and say, "Show me my watchlist."

3. Phone It In

Living room with man on one sofa and woman on another. She is holding her phone up to use as a remote for the TV

If you've lost your Chromecast remote in the couch cushions, you can still navigate on your screen with either the Google Home app (Android(Opens in a new window), iOS(Opens in a new window)) or the Google TV app (Android(Opens in a new window), iOS(Opens in a new window)). To use Google Home, turn on your TV and then open the app. Select Google TV and then Open Remote. For the Google TV app, turn on the TV and then open the app. Select Remote, then Scanning for Devices; choose your device, and follow the instructions onscreen.

4. Make Your Meetings Bigger

Google Meet on w TV
(Image: Google)

We hate to bring up the topic of video meetings, but if you're tired of staring at them on a small screen, you can make them more like entertainment and bring them to your TV. You can cast your Google Meet meetings while still using your computer for the camera, microphone, and audio. Download the Meet app, open your meeting using Google Calendar or the Meet app, and select Cast this meeting. You'll be able to choose the Cast device you want to use in the Cast tab. To stop casting, select the three-dot menu and click Stop Casting Meeting.

5. Cast Google Slides to Your TV

Cast Google Slides to Your TV

When you use Google Slides, you can show your presentation with Chromecast, since Google Cast is built into Chrome. Click the Present option on the top-right of your presentation, select Present on another screen, and pick your Chromecast device.

6. Mirror Your Android Device to the TV

Mirror Your Android Device to the TV

If you want your Android screen to appear on the TV for work or entertainment, screen casting is supported(Opens in a new window) on devices running Android 5.0 and above (sorry, iPhone users). Though your mileage may vary depending on which phone you have; the screenshot above is from a OnePlus 5T. Open the Google Home app, tap your Chromecast device, and tap Cast my screen on the bottom and then Cast screen. Tap Stop mirroring when you're done.

7. Bring Apple TV and Google TV Together

Apple TV+ on Google TV
(Image: Google)

There might be a huge rivalry between Apple and Google, but you don't have to get involved in the conflict when you have a Chromecast With Google TV. The Apple TV app, which includes Apple TV+, is available(Opens in a new window) in the Apps section of your home screen. It's the kind of friendly cooperation you'd find on Ted Lasso.

8. Banish Buffering With an Ethernet Adapter

Ethernet Adapter for Chromecast
(Image: Google)

The Chromecast is a handy gadget for streaming Netflix, YouTube, and other content from mobile devices to your TV, but it requires a strong Wi-Fi connection to deliver streams that don't buffer. Not everyone has a super-fast Wi-Fi network, though. For those who don't, Google has a $20 Ethernet adapter(Opens in a new window) for the Chromecast with Google TV. (A similar adapter(Opens in a new window) for previous-gen Chromecasts has been out of stock for awhile.)

The adapter looks like the existing Chromecast power cord, but the plug end includes a small Ethernet port. Connect an Ethernet cable that's also connected to your modem to that port, plug the USB end of the adapter into the Chromecast, attach the Chromecast to the HDMI port on your TV, and you're ready to go.

9. Cast Music to Your TV

casting icon on Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music apps
Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music

If you've got an impressive sound system hooked up to your TV, why not use it to listen to your favorite tunes? A variety of music-streaming services can cast music to the Chromecast, including Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music. Make sure your device is on the same Wi-Fi network as your Chromecast, look for either the More Devices button or the Chromecast icon, and select your Chromecast from the list that pops up. Disconnect from your music app or via the Google Home app.

10. Chromecast Guest Mode

Chromecast Guest Mode

Whether you have house guests for a week or party guests for an evening, you might want to let them decide what to watch without giving them access to your Wi-Fi. On older-model Chromecasts, turn to Guest Mode(Opens in a new window). (Guest Mode is not available on Chromecast with Google TV.) Open the Google Home app, select your Chromecast, tap the settings cog on the top-right, scroll down to Guest Mode, and tap it to toggle on.

Then, when guests want to cast something, they can tap the cast icon in a supported app, select Nearby device, and enter the four-digit PIN that appears on the TV or that you provide to them.

11. Do Not Track

Do Not Track

It's impossible to turn off all tracking, since the Chromecast is merely a conduit for content, but you can limit what it sends to Google. In the Settings menu of your Chromecast device, look for a setting that mentions sending device stats and crash reports to Google, and toggle it off.

12. Add Photos to the Chromecast Background

Christopher Wood painting as a Chromecast background

Switch up your Chromecast background with Ambient Mode. You can use your own photos(Opens in a new window) or choose from Google's selection of art, landscape photography, and satellite images. In the Google Home app, tap the icon for your Chromecast. Tap the gear icon, and scroll down to Ambient Mode. Here, you can choose to have your Chromecast display images from Google Photos or a gallery of Google-curated images and artwork. Tap Experimental for a low-bandwidth mode. You can also add the weather and time to the display and set how fast the Chromecast cycles through each photo.

13. Cast Google Photos to the TV

Cast Google Photos to the TV

Similarly, Chromecast can serve as a modern-day alternative to old-school slideshows—no projector needed. Google Photos has Chromecast support(Opens in a new window), so you can cast your pics from Google Photos on iOS, Android, and the PC to your TV. Look for the Cast icon on the top of the Google Photos app, and tap to connect.

14. Where's the Remote? It Doesn't Matter

Given that the Chromecast plugs into a port on your TV, you'll need to switch the input on your TV to go between the cable box, the Chromecast, and whatever else you have in your home entertainment setup. If your TV supports HDMI-CEC, though, your TV can make the leap as soon as you hit the cast button from a supported app; no old-school remote needed.

Some TV makers might call it by a different name (Google has a rundown here(Opens in a new window)), but if your TV supports it, go to the TV's settings, select the HDMI-CEC option, and enable it. Note that your Chromecast must be using a wall outlet for power and not plugged into a USB port on the TV.

15. Listen on Your Headphones

When you want to watch something on TV but don't want the sound to disturb others, Chromecast with Google TV includes Bluetooth support, which you can access in the Remote & Accessories section of the Google TV home screen (note that some stability issues have been reported(Opens in a new window)).

For older Chromecast devices, try LocalCast for Chromecast(Opens in a new window). It lets you cast video to your television while keeping audio on your device. Tap Route audio to phone on the Now Playing screen, and plug in some headphones. This LocalCast feature has long been in beta, and the developer warns that there may be bugs. But the app is free, so it's worth a shot when you need to keep the noise to a minimum.

16. Ask the Google Assistant for Help

The remote that comes with the Chromecast With Google TV includes a Google Assistant button; press it to search by voice or ask Google's virtual assistant to open supported apps. If you have an older Chromecast and a Google smart home devices such as a Nest display, connect them(Opens in a new window), and say things like "OK Google, play Stranger Things on Netflix." Other compatible services include Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and YouTube TV.

17. Making Things Family-Friendly

Chromecast screen that lets you select a child-friendly theme

Families with the Chromecast With Google TV can set up separate profiles for their kids, so parents don't have to worry about unsupervised screen time. Parents can specify which apps their kids can access (including YouTube Kids), select a theme, and even manage screen time. "When it’s almost time to turn off the TV, your kids will be greeted with three countdown warning signs before a final 'Time is up' screen appears and ends their watch time," Google says(Opens in a new window). Kids are smart, so parents can PIN-protect their own profiles.

18. Create a YouTube TV Queue

Create a YouTube TV Queue

The only annoying thing about watching YouTube on a Chromecast is that you have to pick up and put down your device every time you want to watch another video. Or do you? Open the YouTube app, tap the Cast button, select your Chromecast device, and choose a video to watch. A pop-up box will appear that gives you the option to play the video right away or add it to your queue. Add however many videos you want to watch to your queue, and then settle in. Tap the up arrow at the bottom of the screen to view or edit your upcoming video selections.

19. Cast Plex to Chromecast

plex on ios screenshot

One of the chief complaints about the Chromecast is that it doesn't support local media playback, so you can't tap into content you have saved in the cloud. But with media management app Plex, you can stream music, movies, and photos via the Chromecast(Opens in a new window). Plex organizes your scattered content and lets you watch it from tablets, TVs, phones, and more. Sign up(Opens in a new window), download the Plex app, open it, and send your content to the Chromecast.

20. Stream Games With Stadia

google stadia supported devices

The Google Stadia streaming platform lets you play console- and PC-quality games on your phone, in a Chrome browser tab, or on your TV with a supported streaming device. At launch, that meant a Chromecast Ultra, but in June 2021, Google added Stadia support(Opens in a new window) to the Chromecast with Google TV for more big-screen gaming options.

21. Stream DVDs With Vudu (for a Price)

If you have stacks and stacks of DVDs and nothing to play them on, or you just want the convenience that comes with streaming, you can use Vudu to convert old media to new. Download the Vudu app (Android(Opens in a new window)iOS(Opens in a new window)), sign in or sign up for an account. Go to the menu, select Disc to Digital, and scan the UPC code from the disc. Then you can watch your DVDs as a stream on the Vudu app on Chromecast—at a cost of $2 per title for standard definition and $5 per title for high definition.

22. Chromecast Preview Program

If spoilers don't dissuade you, you'll want to join the Chromecast Preview Program(Opens in a new window). It brings you the latest Chromecast features before they're released to the public. Google says the program is not beta but rather just a preview of stable features.

To sign up, open the Google Home app on an Android or iOS device. Tap your Chromecast and the gear icon on the top-right, and scroll down to Preview Program. Select it, tap Join Program, and agree to receive emails about new features. To opt out, just return to this page and tap Leave Program.

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About Chandra Steele

Senior Features Writer

My title is Senior Features Writer, which is a license to write about absolutely anything if I can connect it to technology (I can). I’ve been at PCMag since 2011 and have covered the surveillance state, vaccination cards, ghost guns, voting, ISIS, art, fashion, film, design, gender bias, and more. You might have seen me on TV talking about these topics or heard me on your commute home on the radio or a podcast. Or maybe you’ve just seen my Bernie meme

I strive to explain topics that you might come across in the news but not fully understand, such as NFTs and meme stocks. I’ve had the pleasure of talking tech with Jeff Goldblum, Ang Lee, and other celebrities who have brought a different perspective to it. I put great care into writing gift guides and am always touched by the notes I get from people who’ve used them to choose presents that have been well-received. Though I love that I get to write about the tech industry every day, it’s touched by gender, racial, and socioeconomic inequality and I try to bring these topics to light. 

Outside of PCMag, I write fiction, poetry, humor, and essays on culture.

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